Review: The Deceptively Named Country Westerns Return With More Rugged Rocking

Country Westerns
Forgive the City
(Fat Possum)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Apparently, the deceptive, if not totally confusing, name of the Country Westerns—a band whose sound is unconnected to country or Western music—didn’t scare away folks looking for pedal steel, mandolin, or fiddle. The garage rock trio’s 2020 debut was a critical, if somewhat less commercial, hit. But it landed on several year-end best-of lists. It’s now time for the follow-up which, it will come as no surprise to learn, is also nowhere close to country music.

Helmed by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Joey Plunket and produced by returning boards man Matt Sweeney, who has worked with wildly diverse artists, ranging from Run the Jewels to Iggy Pop, the threesome doubles down on the gusty, tuneful, and even erudite lyrical traits introduced on their first collection. Like that set, this keeps the songs compact; only two barely break three minutes (by just a few seconds), bringing a dozen cuts in at a lean half hour. The few guitar solos never overstay their welcome, each track radiates hooks you’ll sing after one spin, and Sweeney (who also contributes occasional second guitar), manages to capture the outfit’s nervous energy, which is comparable to The Replacements or X.

Frontman Plunket’s slightly hoarse voice, not far from a combination of a less boisterous Springsteen or John Mellencamp before the latter went Tom Waits on us, is engaging and compelling. When Plunket warbles, more like spits out, about his dedication to the outfit he leads on the appropriately titled “Country Westerns” That’s all it ever was/All it can ever be/Country Westerns for me, there’s no uncertainty about keeping this gig going.

For the two-minute-long “Hell,” the band adds tough Petty-styled strumming when Plunket sings  I don’t care much what you do / Ain’t I been a friend to you / I don’t deserve your attitude / Hell is here all of the time, as conviction seeps out of his vocals. Things get somewhat softer with reflective musings about aging in the Old 97’s’ influenced “When Something Goes Wrong” with All of the days that you’ve wasted / All of the time that you can’t get back.

The straightforward, undiluted Country Westerns’ approach makes it seem like the album was created live in the studio, with minimal overdubs. Between Plunket’s literate lyrics, his knack for melody, and the group’s rugged, yet never overblown organic oomph, they are one song away from crossing over to a larger audience…as long as no one expects any Americana twang.  

Photo credit: Angelina Castillo / Big Hassle

Leave a Reply

Lauren Daigle and Trisha Yearwood Sign on For ‘Hope and Healing’ Event For Nashville Educators